Busted Halo

Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.

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March 24th, 2010

So, what happens when a Catholic seminarian interviews the director of a documentary about Muslim Punks at the South By Southwest film festival? A pretty good conversation about the struggles of being Islamic in North America and the similar dynamics involved in different spiritual traditions it turns out! After the Austin premiere of Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, filmmaker Omar Majeed and I discussed this lesser-known movement within the modern musical and cultural landscape as it traveled from the United States to Pakistan.

The video above was selected from clips of a 14 minute interview.
To view the first part of the full interview, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKLe7oQ4H6w.
To view the second part of the full interview, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZ-wBbs_SF4.

To learn more about the film and to see a preview, visit http://www.taqwacore.com. [Explicit language contained in trailer]…

March 19th, 2010


The following post is a continuation of BustedHalo’s coverage of the 2010 South By Southwest festival.
The guest contributor for this post is Lynn Freehill, an Austin-based writer.

After 25 years of on-again, off-again lessons about how God asks us to forgive each other, I came to a group discussion of forgiveness with fair confidence that I could hold my own. Forgiveness was a challenging concept, I’d come to believe, but a beautiful one.

But when one group member, James, launched by asking how we each defined forgiveness, my confidence whooshed away. Here I was a writer, and I couldn’t even articulate the idea in simple words. How to explain it: accepting something that had gone wrong? Telling the wrongdoer it was okay after all?

WIR_poster_27x40Fortunately, James offered his own definition: restoration of relationship.

Those three words resonated with me that evening, and they came to me again as I took in a South by Southwest movie premiere.

This premiere had a red carpet and a regal star in a glittering full-length dress, but the film being screened was no fluffy Hollywood concoction. When I Rise was a documentary about the most painful period in the life of its …

March 17th, 2010


The following post is a continuation of BustedHalo’s coverage of the 2010 South By Southwest festival.

This is my week to play “press agent.”  I have a badge that makes me feel extra special and my name is on a list that allows me to take pictures on many of the Red Carpet premieres here at South By Southwest.  Yet the casual observer might notice little things about me that betray that this is not my full time job.

My camera—although a nice piece of equipment that has always served me well on vacations—appears to have cost thousands of dollars less than the other cameras around me.  The fact that I am dressed entirely in black—save a white tab around my neck—also suggests other employment pursuits.

But my amateur status was probably most on display when, after securing my place behind the velvet ropes along the red carpet, a press agent for the film wanted to know if I had any questions for Ms. Conrad.  Because this was the moment in which I had to confess that I had never heard of Barbara Smith Conrad.  The agent told me that she was a very prominent opera singer.  “Opera… Oh!  Did …

March 16th, 2010


The following post is a continuation of BustedHalo’s coverage of the 2010 South By Southwest festival.

The search for the spirituality at the South By Southwest media festival in Austin began with a pot movie.  No, I am not advocating alternative lifestyles… at least not those of the Cheech and Chong variety.  But when I found out that Edward Norton would be showing his latest film at the Alamo Draft House on South Lamar, I put a big black circle around the showing of Leaves of Grass on the extended grid of movies offered on the opening night of the festival.

It might have something to do with the fact that the theme that seemed to permeate last summer was the movie Keeping The Faith. For those who have not seen it, the 2000 film featured Norton as a Catholic priest from New York whose best friend was a rabbi played by Ben Stiller.  And while those months did not involve a love triangle with Jenna Elfman, I was indeed living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and my best friend that summer was a Jewish Rabbi-to-be.  I even went to my first Jewish Shabbat service at the temple …

March 12th, 2010

During my novitiate year, as a way to better learn about the community a number of Paulists came and talked to us about their priestly careers.  And one of them, after talking about all the things he was able to do during his time with the community—serving as the chaplain for UCLA, spending a number of years in Rome, working as a commentator on network TV—said something that stuck with me over the past four years.  He said, “If you don’t have a lot of fun as a Paulist, it’s your own fault.”

SXSW_Enter_HereWith that in mind, there has been one event I have been looking forward to ever since I arrived in Austin for my pastoral year: South By Southwest (SXSW).  SXSW is a yearly festival that integrates the latest in independent film, music, and interactive media.  Filmmakers, artists, singers, actors, gamers, and tech geeks all converge on the capital of Texas for ten days of movies, performances, displays, conferences… if it has anything to do with media, it’s here.  So with this super-cool festival taking place just twenty blocks away from my parish this year, I got the idea to cover the event from the standpoint of the …

March 8th, 2010

I know that a magazine entitled “Spirit” does not necessarily involve any faith connotations per se.  Of course, the official magazine of Southwest Airlines never claimed to focus on journeys of faith… only those involving honey-roasted peanuts.  And when I picked up the magazine on a recent flight, I can’t say that I finally solved the problem of evil or figured out the math of single God made up of three persons.  But when I landed on the page entitled “Wheel of Fortune,” I was given yet another subtle reminder of the different kind of life I am leading.

24253351No, the article did not entail any veiled references to Pat Sajak (disappointingly) but it did feature a bright, multicolored wheel… each piece of the wheel containing statements with which the reader was meant to either agree or disagree.  So with nothing to do and desperately looking to avoid a conversation with the person seated next to me—during that perilous time when all electronic devices had to be turned off, thus eliminating the famous “I’m listening to my iPhone” excuse—I reached for my own dose of “Spirit.”

The purpose of the wheel is to keep score on the number of statements …

February 23rd, 2010

You know how “Fight Club” has these rules?  Well, as I’ve come to learn, priests also have similar rules among themselves.  Rule Number One: Do not wear clerics on an airplane.  Rule Number Two: DO NOT WEAR CLERICS ON AN AIRPLANE.

Why is this you may ask?  Well, the best explanation I can give is a story I heard about a fellow Paulist.  This particular Paulist very much sees his priesthood as a responsibility to be as complete a representative of a loving God as he can possibly be.  He takes this sense of identity very, very seriously and strives with all of his might to fulfill this divine mission.  But—because he is a human being, just like everyone else—he acknowledges that he sometimes falls short of this awesome responsibility.  So, as an act of penance to the God he feels that he has occasionally let down… he wears clerics on an airplane.

AirlineBecause as most of us know, it’s always a roll of the dice sitting down next to someone on an airplane.  The particular person you might sit next to might be chatty.  And if you’re not in a chatty mood, it’s bound to be a very long …

February 17th, 2010

Did you know that Ash Wednesday is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation?  Seriously!  My jaw dropped when I heard this yesterday.  The reason: Ash Wednesday is not considered a Feast Day… it’s a fast.

That being said, for a day that does not fall under the purview of obligation, it sure does get good attendance.  While I don’t know this for sure (I can let you know at the end of the day), I would be willing to venture that more people show up for church on Ash Wednesday than they do for a typical Sunday.  My opinion of the reason why so many people do: giveaways.

If Trade Show people and Athletic Stadium Mascots have learned anything over the years, it’s that people love giveaways.  Have you ever been to a professional game and watched people go into an absolute Meg Ryan “I’ll have what she’s having” frenzy when one of the furry green baseball monsters—wearing a gigantic sling-shot on his back—launches a five dollar t-shirt into the foaming mass of humanity?  People with several hundred dollar bills in their wallet with fight to catch the exact same airborne prize they could easily purchase—but won’t—50 yards away.

Of …

February 11th, 2010

Moulin_rouge_posterWhen I first saw Moulin Rouge! about ten years ago, one of my artsier friends brought me to the independent movie house and I had no idea what I was walking into.  She had a reputation for crazy films so I was skeptical at first.  As the movie started (if you’ve ever seen it), my initial skepticism seemed more than justified.  The films seemed to be all over the place with crazy people shouting, rapid-fire camera cuts, and a music selection that could only be described as schizophrenic… I’m sorry, I mean “multiple-personalitied.”  During its first twenty minutes , Moulin Rouge! was like an old airplane—with holes in its fabric wings—bouncing along the runway trying to take off.

And then—just when you thought the plane was going to run out of runway—it soars.  It was the moment in which McGregor’s and Kidman’s characters decide that they are going to give this “love thing” a go… and so the song they sing includes a montage of the greatest hits of the past few decades: KISS’s “I Was Made for Lovin’ You,” Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” and the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”

There was one other song …

February 4th, 2010

It was an act of incredible self-restraint to NOT begin my reflection for the feast of Saint Blaise—the patron saint of throat illnesses—with this opening line:  “Today’s homily is brought to you by Vicks!”

BlaiseI know, “bad seminarian.”  How dare I even think of money when reflecting on one of the holy ones of the church, a martyr no less!  Maybe after preaching five Masses this past weekend that involved a cash appeal, I guess my head has found itself in a fundraising place.  As I’m beginning to see, it’s all part of the territory of becoming a priest.  When I told my sister that I was going to be doing the appeal for the Paulists this past weekend, she said, “Ahh, you’re a priest already!”

But while we’re on the topic, it’s not as if Catholic saints don’t have a lot of untapped potential in the sponsorship department.  I mean, college bowls have corporate tie-ins that are only tangentially are tied to the game.  “Tune in for the Outback Bowl!!!  Being played in… someplace other than Australia.” The All-State Sugar Bowl… seriously?  What does car insurance have to do with sugar?  The Captain Crunch Sugar Bowl seems infinitely more …

February 1st, 2010

A few months ago, I was sitting with some of the young adults at our parish in Austin and I casually mentioned the name of Issac Hecker.  The response to that name was, “Who’s that?”  And initially the response took me off-guard because for the past three-and-a-half years, much of my conversation has centered around the founder of the Paulist Fathers.

So when I preached this past weekend for the Paulist Appeal, I thought it would be a good opportunity to focus on Hecker and how his story relates to the conversion of St. Paul.  Because I seemed to get a good reception on the homily, it is printed below. It does cover some good history of the community that supports Busted Halo, The Paulists, but you certainly won’t be expected to contributie for simply reading.

Of course if you WANT to, no one will stop you. :)

When our founder Isaac Hecker was born in 1819, America was not yet 50 years old.  Think about that for a second… we are farther away today from the Beatle’s first appearance on Ed Sullivan than Isaac Hecker was from the Revolutionary War.  America, this brand new experiment in human history, was

January 26th, 2010

The following relates to my time as a hospital chaplain this past summer in New York.

You never know what is going to be on the other side of that door.  As a chaplain walking into the hospital room of a patient, there may be people who are anxiously awaiting surgery.  There may be people who are packing up after an overnight stay and are delighted to be heading home.  There may be people who were just told a few hours before that they only have weeks left to live.

One of the bigger jobs of the chaplain is to be empathetic with everyone on the other side of that door, to meet and encounter the feelings of the patients no matter where on the happy-or-sad scale, on the great-or-lousy continuum, on the joyous-or-defeated measuring stick they may land.  And it’s not as if you have a lot of time to prepare for this diversity when you walk in the door… the patient’s physical illness is immediately available to you on the chart you walk in with; the patient’s emotional state is most decidedly not.

So a tool we as chaplains-in-training were quickly introduced to as a means of establishing …

January 21st, 2010

Chart_DoctorIn college I was a member of student government, which often meant that I found myself in situations where people knew my name without my knowing theirs. During those years, I learned to rely on something I called the “Buddy System.” It sounds glamorous, but all it really came down to employing the use of the term “Buddy” whenever I would blank on the name of a person who was saying hello. In the world of college relationships where being casual is a value that is held in high esteem, it often seemed to carry me through many a social situation. But something deep inside told me that that was not going to be as effective this past summer as I began my summer assignment as a hospital chaplain.

Buddy_ChristIf it was not obvious before, hospital rooms are dramatically different environments. On more than one occasion, I found myself utterly forgetting the patient’s name when praying for or with the patient. Somehow praying for “Buddy’s” recovery and for God’s presence in “Buddy’s” life in this time of trial seemed less… personal.  I guess some theology could be developed that the use of such terminology that causes patients to view God …

January 19th, 2010

The night before I left for seminary—my “last night” if you will—some friends were sitting on my front porch having some beers. We were joking around and doing what we all do best: busting on one another.  While everyone in the group was taking their fair share of sarcastic shrapnel, eventually the barrels were turned onto the topic of my impending celibacy with the comment; “Enjoy your last night… you have to turn in your ‘Man Card’ tomorrow.”  Zing!

I was reflecting on that moment while flipping the channels the other night.  The old television standby of a James Bond movie appeared on the television menu, one that happened to be one of my favorites: Casino Royale.  This film by far had the best acting and the best plot development of the Bond films; it also had one of the better 007s: Daniel Craig.

Daniel Craig’s Bond personified a more modern male ideal… an ideal regularly championed by any Maxim or FHM magazine. But watching this film also got me thinking how much this character—played by any actor—had been one of the major definitions of manhood I had growing up. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I …

January 12th, 2010

The following continues my experiences in Berkeley California during my novitiate year in March 2006.

There’s no such thing as a normal life, Wyatt. There’s just life.”
- Val Kilmer (as Doc Holiday), Tombstone


Two Saturdays ago, I went to my first funeral here at the Newman Center. The man who passed away was not a parishioner; instead, his parish seemed to be the trouble spots of the world.  He was a doctor working for an organization very similar to Doctors Without Borders. Through his job, he had been in some of the most dangerous places in the world, including Afghanistan and Bosnia at their most volatile. The reflections given towards the end of the service described a human being who was half Alan Alda and half Indiana Jones.

One of the eulogists reflected on the story where the soldier returned to England from the Crusades only to find death waiting at his door. When not out saving the world, the deceased was kind of a thrill seeker whose hobbies included sailing and skydiving.  A story was told of when his main parachute had failed to deploy during one vacation… and just at the last possible moment his reserve …

January 8th, 2010

New_YearsThere really is something depressing about New Year’s Day. While the previous evening is usually a time of champagne-enhanced excitement, the next day has a nasty habit of crash-landing into a giant pool of blah. When it’s cold and snowy in December, there’s the expectation of Christmas, parties abound, and lighted trees sparkle to keep all spirits high, but as the holidays come to a close, there is only the frigid realization that we are looking down the barrel of three straight months of … cold. As if to underscore the mood, (at least in the Northeast) God usually makes sure that the weather for the first day of the year is almost always overcast.

And don’t get me started on New Year’s resolutions: good-bye Ruth’s Chris, hello Weight Watchers. A part of me dies every January The First when the television commercials officially switch from celebrating the coolest new Playstation/Talking Elmo/Robotic Barbie Doll to earnestly communicating the sobriety of Jenny Craig.  Yes, nothing speaks to the “joy of living” like responsible eating … good times, good times.

I myself am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions; I much prefer Lent when it comes to endeavors of personal improvement. …

January 6th, 2010

The following continues some of the experiences I had during my novitiate year in Spring 2007.  I wanted to get a few more of these in before I started writing more about “modern day” life because I felt that they give a good background as to where I’ve been.

“Nobody calls me Lebowski. You got the wrong guy. I’m the Dude, man.”
- Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski

On my last day before Christmas break, I found out where I would be going for my Lenten Apostolate: Berkeley, California.  That’s right: I shall be spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in the birthplace of the Grateful Dead.  I makes me very excited; my over-active imagination wonders if the altar cloths are tie-dyed and if the Eucharistic hosts are made out of hemp.

During the first year in formation, your Lenten Apostolate is basically the time you spend getting hands-on experience in parish life.  I was to be working at the Catholic Newman Center for UC Berkeley from Ash Wednesday through to Easter, spending time with the students but also the parishioners who attend the center as a regular parish.  Specific duties in and of themselves were to be light; it …

December 30th, 2009

The following is a continued account of my first year in seminary with the Paulist Fathers.

Holy Thursday 2006 was spent in a bar. The screen writing class I had been taking finished its six week run and we all decided to go out for a beer. After the evening was through, the instructor of the class (Jim) and I were walking to our cars. He had graduated film school a few years ago and was working during the day for a wine store while working on some projects, one of which he was in the midst of finishing for a producer in Hollywood.  As it happened, I was heading down to DC to visit American University Film Program in the morning, and I wanted to pick his brain about graduate school possibilities.

The conversation started at “career” advice but got around to where he’s at in his life—specifically whether he should continue pursuing film or start settling down. Jim was seeing somebody pretty seriously and he realized that he was soon going to have to make some decisions. I’m a few years older than him and I told him of some of my experiences of trying to live out …

December 29th, 2009

On the day I was to serve as an acolyte for the first time, I was nervous. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the acolyte is essentially an altar server. But I was nervous because while I believe I have been given many gifts in life, hand and foot coordination has not traditionally been one of them; to this day small beads of sweat roll down my forehead whenever I’m at a wedding and the DJ busts out “The Electric Slide.” Granted, assisting the presiding priest during Mass is a little different from taking a step forward, taking a step back, wiggling your tush, and turning to the side… but from what I’ve seen from the pews, it’s not different by much.

Fortunately the priest who would be presiding that evening was very patient with me. So as I fumbled around with getting all of the “equipment” set up ahead of time, he took some time out to guide me through the process. He began by telling me, “You’ll need to get the Paten from this shelf; put some hosts in the Paten…”

“You mean the dish? Put the bread in the dish?”

The priest stared at me …

December 27th, 2009

Fifteen years ago I was living in Phoenix Arizona and my mother—someone who was born in Brooklyn New York and has only thee times in her life crossed the Mississippi River—wanted to know what “IT” would be like.

“IT” was, of course, Christmas… and I knew exactly what she was talking about. The ninety-degree December in Arizona did not square with holiday landscapes created by the Frosty The Snowman, Jingle Bells, and Marshmallow World. Rather, the countryside described by Bing Crosby in White Christmas closely resembled the small New Jersey town I knew as a child. Where I grew up, there really was a danger of grandma getting run over by a reindeer. And if that wasn’t enough, the place where all of the cool holiday moves seemed to take place—New York City—was a mere ninety minutes away; Rockefeller Center and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade were considered to be next door neighbors.

So it was that year in the Phoenix desert when I had to come face-to-face with the expectations I had about Christmas as opposed to the reality of Christmas…
 my expectations of what Christmas was supposed to be and what it really was.

Granted, that year the …

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